Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Friday, March 8, 2019

Jonathan Neville’s continued abuse of Oliver Cowdery

Jonathan Neville’s March 8, 2019, blog post, “"Letter IV—Moroni’s Visit,” discusses Oliver Cowdery’s fourth letter to W.W. Phelps published in the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. As usual, Neville abuses Oliver’s writings to further his own ideological agenda.

Let’s run through some of Neville’s claims:
Recall that Oliver wrote these essays with the assistance of Joseph Smith, using documents then in their possession that we no longer have.
This claim is partially true. Joseph Smith did help Oliver compose the essays by supplying him with very specific information. Joseph wrote:
I have been induced to give you the time and place of my birth, as I have learned that many of the opposers of those principles which I have held forth to the world, profess a personal acquaintance with me, though when in my presence, represent me to be another person in age, education, and stature, from what I am.
Neville wants his readers to believe Joseph Smith personally oversaw the writing of each of Oliver’s individual letter, detail by detail. There is no evidence for this. Rather, the Prophet assisted Oliver by providing him basic biographical information. Beyond this, the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers note, “there is no evidence that Joseph Smith assigned Cowdery to write the letters.”

As for the other sources Oliver used in composing his letters, one very likely source was Joseph Smith’s 1832 history. What’s remarkable is that, even though he likely had Joseph’s 1832 history to help him compose the letters, Oliver still got fundamental details wrong about Joseph’s history, includilng the date and nature of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.

Neville continues:
Presumably one of these documents was the notebook Oliver kept from the time he first met Joseph Smith in April 1829. He recorded things Joseph told him, which undoubtedly included the first visit of Moroni.
This is nothing but pure speculation on Neville’s part. He provides no evidence that the so-called Oliver Cowdery History, “commencing at the time of the finding of the plates, up to June 12, 1831,” was used in composing the letters published in the Messenger and Advocate. In fact, we cannot know one way or the other because that history is now missing and so it is impossible to determine what material it may have contained.
Moroni gave “a history of the aborigines of this country.” Country refers to a region or territory. This qualifies country; it refers to the region or territory in which he was visiting Joseph (i.e. western New York or the United States, circa 1823).
If that’s the case, then perhaps Neville can explain why Joseph Smith, on at least two occasions, spoke of this country in reference to a “region or territory” that wasn’t the United States:
  • “[Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán by John Lloyd Stephens] unfolds & developes many things that are of great importance to this generation & corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon; I have read the volumnes with the greatest interest & pleasure & must say that of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct luminous & comprihensive.” [Source]
  • “If men, in their researches into the history of this country [i.e. Guatemala and southern Mexico], in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.—were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book.” [Source]
Neville’s claim that this country must refer to “western New York or the United States” is simply special pleading. Webster’s 1828 English dictionary gives three definitions of country before coming close to Neville’s imposed meaning:
  1. Properly, the land lying about or near a city; the territory situated in the vicinity of a city. Our friend has a seat in the country a few miles from town. Hence,
  2. The whole territory of a kingdom or state, as opposed to city. We say, the gentleman has a seat in the country at any distance from town indefinitely. Hence,
  3. Any tract of land, or inhabited land; any region, as distinguished from other regions; a kingdom, state or lesser district. We speak of all the countries of Europe or Asia.
  4. The kingdom, state or territory in which one is born; the land of nativity; or the particular district indefinitely in which one is born. America is my country or Connecticut is my country.
  5. The region in which one resides.

One more quote from Neville’s post:
Moroni said the record was “written and deposited” not far from Joseph Smith’s house. It was not written elsewhere and transported thousands of miles to western New York.
Actually, Oliver Cowdery attributed these words to Moroni, not as a direct quote, but as a paraphrase. In fact, Oliver did not place these words in the first person as he did with other statements of Moroni in the same letter. So, at the very least, Oliver’s statement is third-hand: Oliver was recounting in his own words what Joseph Smith told him that he heard Moroni say. (This, of course, assumes this detail directly came directly from Joseph Smith and is not Oliver’s own interpolation, of which we have no real way of knowing.)

This blog post is another in a continuing series of examples of how Jonathan Neville distorts and mischaracterizes sources to strengthen his assertion that the Book of Mormon hill Cumorah is the hill near the Smith family home in New York. If his case for this assertion is so strong, why does he need to misrepresent what prophets and apostles have said?

—Captain Hook


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